Seattle Pacific University and School of Theology alumnus (1984) Keith Hamilton graciously allowed us to interview him and hear the many ways in which God has led him toward his vocational ministry. The interview below documents Keith’s path as he pursued God’s calling in his life.
School of Theology: To begin, where did you grow up, and when did you first feel God’s call in your life?
Keith Hamilton: I spent my formative years from third grade through my time at Everett Community College in Lake Stevens, Washington, before transferring to SPU in 1982. I first felt God’s call to serve Him while attending SPU during my senior year.
With many options in front of me after graduation, I felt led to accept the call of a short-term mission to Mexico City, which lasted almost a year. The short transition between graduating from SPU and going to the mission field commenced my service in full-time ministry.
In what way did you feel God’s call in your senior year at SPU?
I knew that in my senior year at SPU God was calling me to full time ministry. Following graduation, I had a few opportunities to serve in Washington as a youth pastor or at a Christian camp.
However, there was a pull at my heart for the people in Mexico, because I have truly enjoyed serving them on short-term mission trips over the years. Instead of applying for positions in local ministries, I stepped out in faith and obedience by completing the necessary paperwork to open the process with Covenant World Mission to serve in Mexico City.
Through a series of miracles, God made it very clear that I was to leave the comfort of a local ministry position and follow His leading south. One such miracle was illustrated in my waiting for a letter from Africa to arrive. On the day I prayed it would arrive, after waiting 5 months to get a response from mentors of mine there, it arrived. It became clear that I was being sent to Mexico City without question after that experience.
What experiences did you encounter in Mexico City, and how did that trip serve as a foundation for a life in ministry?
I encountered wonderful young people who were very excited about a new life with Jesus and a new church we planted while there. I served as a youth pastor in three different church settings, both English and Spanish speaking. This year of my life gave me the passion to serve youth that has remained with me for 31 years as a youth pastor and now college president.
While in Mexico I knew two things:
1. I needed to prepare myself educationally for full-time youth ministry and
2. I was not called to return to Mexico as a full-time, career missionary.
I knew, instead, that God had called me to send others to Mexico and go myself when possible.
To date, I have led teams of more than 700 young people on week-long trips to Mexico and have served annually for the past 20 years as a leader, speaker, missionary, and support staff to others who serve permanently in Mexico.
This post-SPU experience was the foundation for my commitment and calling to pastor young people, to be passionate about mission outreach to specific people groups (such as the Eskimos I serve today), and to disciple everyone I come into contact with.
In what ways did the year in Mexico City give you the passion to serve youth for these last 31 years?
I realized that reaching youth through discipleship was my greatest contribution with the gifts the Lord has provided. What I was called to do in Mexico City was just that — to disciple youth so that they become fully committed followers of Jesus Christ.
I saw impoverished, Mexican youth as well as middle- and upper-class foreign students who all met in different youth groups I led to be discipled, one on one and in larger groups. My passion grew as I saw Christ lead many students into relationship with Him.
Could you tell me more about your time between Mexico City and Alaska? Did you spend some time discerning God’s next calling?
Since my experience in Mexico City, I knew that God was calling me toward full-time ministry to students. I began my preparation academically at Fuller Theological Seminary on the campus of SPU, and then moved to the Pasadena campus to get my master of divinity degree with a concentration in youth ministry. I also completed a year and a half of studies at North Park Theological Seminary in preparation for ordination with the Evangelical Covenant Church.
I entered my first full-time pastorate in Rocklin, California, as an associate pastor working with youth and then maintaining the same position in Arvada, Colorado. In both of these ministries — which spanned 12 years — I knew that my heart remained softened toward world mission. Yet I knew that I was called to stay in the U.S.
When the opportunity for planting Alaska Christian College came about, I knew that God was allowing me to retain both my call to mission and my call to youth ministry in the same location — Alaska! I am overwhelmed that God has provided such a great and rich experience in both the foreign mission field and the home mission field as I work with and serve primarily with Alaska native young people.
Could you tell me more about your mission outreach with the Eskimos you serve today?
We mainly serve Alaska’s rural Eskimo students coming from village Alaska. We serve a population that has seen many students fail in their attempts at the state university system. We provide a two-year, Christian, higher-education opportunity that allows them to progress toward a four-year degree while in a setting of Christian community that personally reaches each student’s academic and spiritual needs.
We have seen the transformation of students who have found Christ and been discipled in Him while at ACC. We are a mission college, which means that we do not turn students away because they cannot afford their first year of college. We raise support as a mission staff and two-thirds of our operational income arrives from donations. We are Alaska’s only Christian college reaching this population, and for 10 years have had the incredible privilege of watching students and their families — and, we pray, someday their villages — be transformed because of our students.
What led you to start a Christian college in Alaska?
While in Colorado, my wife and I had the opportunity to consider planting Covenant Bible College of La Merced, Ecuador. When that door closed, we knew that God was going to move us somewhere to serve, but we did not know where. Our calling was sure — serving youth, with a mission focus, doing discipleship.
When the opportunity came to interview to become the President of the ACC – what I jokingly referred to as the President of Nothing since we began with no freshmen, finances, faculty, or facility – I knew that Deb and I were possibly the ones God wanted to move to Alaska. While my heart is for discipleship, youth ministry, and mission, I had no idea that ultimately I would end up serving Native peoples and my wife would lead the counseling center on the campus of ACC.
Many people believe it was my vision to plant ACC. Actually, it was the native leaders of the Evangelical Covenant Church in Alaska who had the vision to reach this amazing group of young people forgotten by most of society. We were called to implement their vision, and for over 10 years now have seen transformation of lives and families — and someday, we pray, whole villages — because Christ has redeemed and built strong foundations through His Word taught at Alaska Christian College.
What kind of advice would you offer to current theology students about discerning and following the call of God on their lives?
Our God is a God of clarity and not confusion; our Lord is a Lord of order and not disorder. Knowing these promises from Scripture, students should trust Him when discerning their call through what is clear and orderly right in front of them, not the unknown.
For following God’s calling in their life, students should know that choosing the highest road of integrity is the only road to take as they lead by God’s power and through His Spirit.
I really appreciate your story. I enjoy hearing how God opens and closes doors and eventually leads families to fruitful vocations. How can students at SPU and in the School of Theology pray for your ministry?
Thanks for asking! For prayer requests, the biggest is that we are one year from receiving initial accreditation next February with a site visit next fall. This is critical for the future of our institution, and we are grateful for your prayers.